Keith Olbermann And MSNBC's Self Destruct

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Olbermann is a shining star in an industry that stifles real greatness. American journalism has its standouts, however, they often aren’t known by the masses, because mainstream media is dominated by superficiality. Broadcast journalism, especially, has helped to degenerate the craft with its domination by shallow, facile “reporters” who act like Hollywood celebrities devoid of any integrity.

[Speaking Truth To Power]

Keith Olbermann’s abrupt departure from MSNBC has many wondering why the top notch journalist left? Was it solely his decision? Or was he pressured to leave, because of the NBC Comcast merger?

Last Friday, Mr. Olbermann, a veteran sportscaster and reporter, told his audience he was leaving MSNBC. He had been at MSNBC since 2003. Single-handedly, he elevated the network to respectability—and competitiveness—with his show’s consistently high ratings. Olbermann enlarged his audience from a couple hundred thousand to over a million viewers per night, surpassing CNN.

There was no explicit explanation specified for his exodus. But, he did give a hint by saying “all that surrounded the show – but never the show itself – was just too much for me.” Reportedly, Olbermann and MSNBC came to a “negotiated separation.”

During his tenure, Olbermann had, apparently, repeatedly, locked horns with MSNBC management because of his journalistic iconoclasm and mercurial temperament. As Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) pointed our; Olbermann regularly invited liberals and progressives on his show—which is a no-no on broadcast television.

He, and his guests, often ventured into topics the “responsible” media wouldn’t touch like the war-profiteering agendas of companies like Blackwater and Halliburton. In November 2010, Olbermann was suspended by the network for making campaign contributions to political candidates—including Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords who was recently targeted for assassination by Jared Loughner. The suspension precipitated a conversation—that needs to be continued—about so-called “objective journalism.”

Olbermann’s journalism career has been filled with tempestuous employer relationships. Early in his career, as a sports reporter he was fired by UPI Television for, supposedly saying to his boss “this is the minor leagues here,” before moving on to RKO Radio and New York’s WNEW. He then, in 1981 went to CNN for a brief, turbulent period. In 1984, he became a sports anchor at WCVB-TV
in Boston; before moving on to KTLA-TV and KCBS-TV in California where he won 11 Golden Mike Awards for Best Sportscaster and Best Sportscast. He was voted Sportscaster of the Year three times.

In 1992, he helped to launch ESPN Radio, before gaining national notoriety as an anchor on ESPN’s Sportscenter. But there were problems including a reprimand for appearing on the Daily Show. In the late Nineties, he worked for FOX Sports News, but was fired by Rupert Murdoch who said “he’s crazy.” He also worked for ABC Radio winning an Edward R. Murrow Award for his reporting on the 9-11 attacks before going to MSNBC.

Phil Graham, of MSNBC, once assessed Olbermann this way “First day he was in TV, I knew right away that Keith had something
that I’d never seen. He was made for this. I mean, the guy is crazy, but he is made for this.”

Olbermann is indeed “made for this,” but the problem is that corporate media isn’t made for frank truth-tellers. That reality can bring out the worst in temperamental trailblazers who’re trying to do groundbreaking work. The fact is Olbermann is a shining star in an industry that stifles real greatness. American journalism has its standouts, however, they often aren’t known by the masses, because mainstream media is dominated by superficiality. Broadcast journalism, especially, has helped to degenerate the craft with its domination by shallow, facile “reporters” who act like Hollywood celebrities devoid of any integrity.

How did Fox News become a standard for television news? According to a 2010 poll, by Public Policy Polling, Fox News was voted “most trusted” news channel. Sorry, CNN. Is this the price American journalism is paying for the way it helped impede and kill the careers of past giants like Edward R. Murrow and I.F. Stone, especially, because networks and publications became too greedy for
big business advertising profits?

Stone, who appeared on Meet the Press when it was a radio program, was blacklisted, in the 1950’s, and couldn’t get a job in mainstream journalism, so, he created his own publication “I.F. Stone’s Weekly.” Stone taught us: “all governments lie.” Contrast that with today’s establishment journalists who’re always bending over obediently to power, while subverting the truth. And Murrow who, like Olbermann, made television executives queasy had his popular show “See It Now” cancelled, because of his hard-hitting reporting.

Another aspect in the demise of establishment journalism is the escalating trend of media merger monopolies. We can thank Fox News’ Rupert Murdoch who used his money and influence in this deteriorating trend toward increased media monopolies. It seems more than likely Mr. Olbermann’s exit from MSNBC is somehow connected to the recent Comcast NBC merger.

Comcast has been accused of having a conservative bias and Olbermann was the most fierce—among the few—critics of Republicans on television and regularly excoriated right-wing fanatics and exposed their lies on his program.

The monopolization of media further allows for the silencing of divergent voices within important aspects of American democracy. If it wasn’t for independent media—and the Internet—how much more marginalized would the discussion of vitally critical topics be?

In that respect, Keith Olbermann’s departure from broadcast news is another bad loss for American journalism.


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